Commentary

French Censorship Order Appealed By Google

Earlier this year, French regulators fined Google $112,000 for failing to censor its site worldwide in response to Europeans' requests to delete information about themselves.


"The right to be delisted is derived from the right to privacy, which is a universally recognized fundamental right laid down in international human rights law," France's CNIL said at the time. "Only delisting on all of the search engine's extensions, regardless of the extension used or the geographic origin of the person performing the search, can effectively uphold this right," the regulators wrote.

Google said today that it is appealing to France's Supreme Administrative Court, the Conseil d’Etat.

"We comply with the laws of the countries in which we operate," General Counsel Kent Walker wrote in a Le Monde op-ed, which the company translated into English and posted on its blog. "But if French law applies globally, how long will it be until other countries -- perhaps less open and democratic -- start demanding that their laws regulating information likewise have global reach?"

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Walker adds that different countries have different standards for determining whether speech is illegal. "Thailand outlaws insults to its king; Brazil outlaws negative campaigning in political elections; Turkey outlaws speech that denigrates Ataturk or the Turkish nation -- but each of these things is legal elsewhere," he writes.

Google's appeal marks the newest twist in the company's conflict with European officials over privacy. In May of 2014, Europe's highest court ruled that Google and other search engines must allow residents of European countries to delete links to certain embarrassing information about themselves from search results.

That ruling tasks Google with evaluating the search results and deciding whether the public's interest in the right to know outweighs an EU resident's so-called "right to be forgotten."

Since then, Google has reviewed close to 1.5 million pages and delisted 40%, according to Walker.

Initially, Google only deleted links from a country-specific search engine, like Google.fr (the default for that country), and not Google.com, which is the default in the U.S. But last June, France's data protection unit, CNIL, said Google must remove links from all of its results pages -- not just pages geared for European countries.

Earlier this year, Google attempted to compromise by using geo-blocking techniques to prevent Europeans from accessing certain search results.

The CNIL in March said that approach was not sufficient.

But Google says that complying with the ruling will pose a risk to free speech worldwide. Walker writes: "This order could lead to a global race to the bottom, harming access to information that is perfectly lawful to view in one’s own country."

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